“Aspergers came into my life when I was forty years old…as I have gotten older, I have come to appreciate how my differences have turned out to include gifts that have set me apart.” John Elder Robison, Be Different
Background and Career
Michael Burry had a sense of being different as he grew up. When he was young, he developed cancer in one of his eyes, resulting in its removal.
Here are some quotes from a Vanity Fair article outlining some of the challenges he faced:
Eye Contact Difficulties
“It took all my energy to look someone in the eye,” he said. “If I am looking at you, that’s the one time I know I won’t be listening to you.”
Making Sense of Social Interactions
“He found it maddeningly difficult to read people’s nonverbal signals, and their verbal signals he often took more literally than they meant them. When trying his best, he was often at his worst.”
“My nature is not to have friends,” he said. “I’m happy in my own head.”
Career and Success
Although Michael had challenges in his life, he persevered and went to Vanderbilt University, studying English, Economic, and pre-medicine. He graduated from medical school, and started his post med school residency in neurology at Stanford Hospital. While in medical school, he developed a fascination for the stock market. In fact, while working 12 hour shifts as a resident, he would work on his stock market blog from midnight to 3 am. Over time, corporations and independent investors took notice of his trading information and rationale and noted, amazed, that he was somehow doing all this analysis in his ‘off’ hours from being a neurology resident!
Eventually, Dr. Michael Burry figured out that, as much as he had enjoyed medicine, he did not feel passionate about dealing with the ‘people’ side of medicine. And his passion for numbers and analysis won out over his chosen career in medicine. So he decided to quit medicine and pursue his interests. Over a period of eight years, while the S&P500 Index was under-performing, Michael Burry earned almost $100 million for himself and $700 million for his investors.
Michael’s ability to focus and analyze may have been offset by the stress of dealing with the investor relations side of his business. He eventually shut down his investing firm to focus on his own personal investments.
At age 35, Michael Burry found out about his own diagnosis of Aspergers after his 4 year old son was diagnosed with the same condition. He wasn’t happy about it. Just as John Elder Robison points out in his book, Be Different, Aspergers is often called a disorder. In John’s words,
…to some of us, the phrase ‘Asperger’s’ is misleading because it makes Asperger’s sound like a disease or an injury. You say, ‘I have a cold’ or ‘I’ve got a broken leg.’ Saying you ‘have’ something implies that it’s temporary and undesirable. Asperger’s isn’t like that. you’ve been Aspergian as long as you can remember, and you’ll be that way all your life. It’s a way of being, not a disease.
Eventually, he accepted his diagnosis. He met with a psychologist to better understand Aspergers as well as the impact it had on him and his family.
What We Can Learn From Michael Burry
In his book, Be Different, John Elder Robison shared some “secrets” to his success in life as an Aspergian. We can find these same success guidelines when we review Michael Burry’s life story.
Find Your Strengths and Interests
Everything begins with finding our particular strengths and talents. Or merely acknowledging them and accepting them.
Michael Burry happened to have interests that people were willing to pay for: medicine and numbers.
Parents, honor your child’s particular interests. You may not see how they have any value currently, but there may be parallel strengths and interests that will later pay off.
Find Real-World Applications for Your Special Skills
One of the keys for career success, whether as an entrepreneur or employee, is to find a) what we’re passionate about; b) what we’re good at; and c) how what we’re both passionate about and good at can help solve problems for people who are willing to pay for our solutions.
Michael Burry solved the problem of how to make money during a recession for thousands of investors. He was passionate about numbers and the stock market; he knew he was good at what he was doing; and there were corporations and private investors willing to pay a great deal of money for the skills he offered.
If you’re a teen, young adult, or mid life adult Aspie, I encourage you to visit my other site, Personal Success Factors, where I explore themes of Discovering Your talents and purpose; Differentiating Yourself; and Developing a Plan to live your purpose and talents out in the world.
Focus and Work Hard
One of the blessings of Aspergers tends to be an ability to focus very well on areas of interest. Michael Burry exemplifies the obsessiveness and hard work that result in success. His ability to pore over reams of research to extract his own personal strategies for investing resulted in financial prosperity.
Again, the autism spectrum often blesses individuals with confidence in logic and their personal perspective on the world. They are not easily swayed by the court of public opinion. This ability to believe in their own point of view can pay off. Michael Burry adopted a contrarian view of value investing when no one else believed him; in fact, may investors revolted against his single minded pursuit of investments that scared them. But it resulted in a huge payoff. He credits his ability to form his own opinions to his Aspergian way of thinking. He had done the research, and he was sure of his facts.
In the End
No, you are not Michael Burry. I’m not Michael Burry. We are each as different as the snowflakes that fall upon the earth. It’s up to you and me to discover our own personal vision, mission, and goals; our own personal talents, strengths, and interests. It’s up to you and me, with the right help, to identify what groups of people can profit from our knowledge/passion/talents, and then to pursue a path that will result in value to those people in the form of our solutions, and also result in monetary profit for us.
I look forward to hearing about how Michael Burry’s story inspires you to action!
Michael Burry, Entrepreneur, Financial Analyst, Author, The Big Short
Betting on the Blind Side
Michael Burry Wikipedia article
Here’s a great video of Michael Burry on how standing apart from the crowd helped him: